The ACC had a down year though North Carolina’s Kendall Marshall-ledresurgence and Florida State’s Sweet Sixteen appearance helped a little bit. Before and during the season, Duke was the runaway favorite in the conference: Kyrie Irving’s toe injury obviously was the pivotal point that brought Duke back down to earth. Equally pivotal (in the reverse direction) was Marshall’s move to starting point guard for North Carolina. With Larry Drew II at the helm, there is no way the Tar Heels could have come close to surpassing Duke for the regular season title. The down year did not really surprise most people, and despite lofty preseason expectations (read: people forgot how highly rated North Carolina was to start the season) I think the perception is that the league at least lived up to preseason expectations with a couple of notable exceptions: NC State, Wake Forest, and Virginia Tech. NC State had NCAA Tournament talent, but did not come anywhere close to sniffing the Big Dance; Wake was arguably the worst major conference team in the country; and Virginia Tech once again found itself very highly seeded in the NIT. On the flip side, Clemson and Florida State both exceeded expectations.
Roy Williams and Kendall Marshall led a mid-season resurgence that resulted in a trip the Elite Eight. (News Observer/Robert Willitt)
The Lede. The obvious story here is BYU falling apart at home against New Mexico in the aftermath of the suspension of Brandon Davies for the season. While most of the Twitter-verse if flipping out over the game and many are questioning the wisdom of BYU in suspending Davies for violating the Honor Code for what appears to be consensual premarital sex with his girlfriend, there are two things worth pointing out from this game: (1) It wasn’t just that the Cougars got dominated on the inside. They got dominated everywhere on the court. (2) The Lobos appear to be the perfect foil for the Cougars as BYU is 0-4 against them in the past two seasons and 26-1 against the rest of the Mountain West Conference. While the loss of Davies obviously hurts the Cougars — who were paper thin on the inside before his suspension — their play tonight revealed a team that was sloppy and distracted rather than one that was just short-handed. The loss may drop the Cougars out of contention for a #1 seed, but if they can regain their focus, which will be difficult with the coming media circus, they should be in good shape for the NCAA Tournament.
Jimmer needs to rally the troops
UNC and Duke win to set up the biggest game ever! Ok. Not really, but we all know that ESPN and CBS will be hyping up Saturday’s prime time match-up as if it was. To be fair, it is for the ACC regular season title, which nobody thought would be up for grabs at the start of December. Since that time, a lot has changed. Duke lost Kyrie Irving, the heart and soul of its team, no matter what Coach K tries to tell you. UNC has seen the emergence of Harrison Barnes, who might not be quite the player that he was expected to be when he was named the first AP Preseason freshman All-American ever, but in the past month he has played solid basketball and you would be hard-pressed to another player who has hit as many clutch shots this season, freshman or otherwise. His latest addition to the resume was a cold-blooded three in the closing moments against FSU in Tallahassee that proved to be the game-winner when the Seminoles were unable to get off a shot at the end. While neither team was particularly impressive today –particularly the Blue Devils, who struggled to wake up against Clemson after the traditional Senior Night festivities honoring Nolan Smith and Kyle Singler – it’s an intriguing match-up, as UNC will hold an edge on the inside, particularly with the recent solid play of John Henson (double-doubles in seven of the last 10 games) and the continued development of Kendall Marshall (eight assists tonight), while the Blue Devils have the stars (Smith and Singler) and the experience.